Gideon’s Way – The Thin Red Line

thin red line

Commissioner Scott-Marle (Basil Dingham) and Gideon have a meeting with General Sir Hector McGregor (Finlay Curie).  Sir Hector still commands the Commissioner’s old Regiment and Scott-Marle regards the old man with barely concealed awe.  Even Gideon is impressed (“old hell-fire Mac” as he calls him).

Sir Hector is a worried man.  The Regiment’s pride and joy – the Balaclava Silver – is being stolen piece by piece and replaced with good quality fakes.  Sir Hector wants the culprit caught, but the honour of the Regiment is uppermost in his mind.  So Gideon has to work unofficially to bring the culprit to book – and the burning question for him is whether one of the upstanding officers and gentleman could be responsible.

It’s possibly coincidental, but The Thin Red Line has something of the feel of Redcap (ABC, 1964-1966).  Like Gideon, Sergeant Mann (John Thaw) was an outsider who frequently had to battle against the superior nature of the officers under investigation.

Gideon’s lack of enthusiasm for this job is very plain.  He’s too polite to tell Sir Hector so (and his respect for authority means that he’s not going to be openly critical to his superior) but the thought of giving the Regiment preferential treatment is something that obviously rankles a little.

Sir Hector is presented as something of a man out of time – he believes in the honour of his officers, simply because they are officers and gentlemen.  But Gideon is not prepared to take anything on trust and tells them that they, like everybody else, will be investigated.  This leads to one of the most entertaining scenes in the episode, as the superior Major Donald Ross (Allan Cuthbertson) leads the others in pouring icily polite scorn on the Commander.  Although Gideon mentions to Ross that he commanded a Regiment during the war, that doesn’t impress the Major at all.  “Oh, in war lots of very strange people become officers.”  The arrogance of the professional soldier (who no doubt viewed the influx of new officers during WW2 with horror) is beautifully expressed here.

There’s not enough time to examine the characters of many of the officers in detail – so the focus is mainly on Ross.  Allan Cuthbertson was a very familiar face on British film and television screens between the 1950’s and the 1980’s.  Equally at home in drama or comedy (a memorable appearance in Fawlty Towers and a stint as Tommy Cooper’s straight man, for example) he gives his usual assured performance as the rather shifty Ross.

It’s quickly revealed that Ross owes a substantial sum of money to the well-heeled bookmaker ‘Bookie’ Barton Smith (Donald Pickering) and he has to face the humiliation of his wife’s public affair with a brother officer, Captain James Murray (Michael Meacham).  But the pain of being cuckolded quickly fades when he realises that he can threaten to divorce his wife, thereby destroying Murray’s career in the Regiment when he names him as the guilty party or he can force Murray to pay off his gambling debts.  Murray plumps for the latter, although the revelation that Ross is broke does tend to rule him out as a suspect.

To be honest, the culprit’s identity is probably not the most taxing mystery in the world.  Sir Hector’s grandson, Captain Robbie McGregor (John Cairney) dotes on the old man and has been selling off the silver in order to make Sir Hector’s last years a little more comfortable (Sir Hector gambled away his fortune and Scottish estates many years ago).

We’re invited to look kindly on Robbie’s motives, but although it’s true that he didn’t steal the silver for himself, it’s all still a little odd.  Robbie bemoans the fact that a brave old man like his grandfather is broke, but then nobody knew the truth about Sir Hector’s finances.  It seems inconceivable that the Regiment wouldn’t have looked after him, so Robbie’s theft could be less about his grandfather and more about making a statement.  He tells Gideon that he regards the Balaclava silver with loathing.  To him, the silver is a dead reminder of the Regiment’s past.  With it, the Regiment remains backward looking, always concentrating on their great victories from previous centuries.

The end of the episode is nicely underplayed, as Gideon leads Robbie away.  Although not explicitly stated, it seems obvious that Robbie will face the full force of the law – exactly what Sir Hector didn’t want to happen.  But although Gideon did seem to agree with Sir Hector that his investigation would be unofficial, this ending tells us that Gideon’s duty to the law overrides all other considerations.  In this way, we can compare Gideon’s sense of duty and honour to that of Sir Hector – just as the old man has his own set of values, so the Commander has his.

We never find out Sir Hector’s response to the revelation that his grandson was responsible for stealing the Balaclava Silver, but it’s not difficult to guess.  To the General, honour is everything – so this might very well be a blow from which he finds it impossible to recover.  It’s an uncomfortable thought that Robbie’s love for his grandfather will, in the end, be the cause of a great deal of pain.

This episode isn’t one that’s adapted from John Creasey’s novels, which may explain why the plotting feels slightly loose.  For example, late on, suspicion briefly falls on Sir Hector after Gideon discovers that he’s penniless.  This makes no sense at all – if Sir Hector was responsible, why would he have asked Scott-Marle and Gideon to investigate?  It’s also slightly hard to swallow that nobody (apart from Robbie) is aware of the perilous state of the old man’s finances.  By his own admission, at one time Sir Hector was a major landowner – so how was he able to sell off his land, properties and other possessions without anybody realising?

The Thin Red Line is one of the best-cast episodes of GW.  Finlay Currie, already in his mid eighties at the time, gives a nicely judged performance as the General.  Allan Cuthbertson is, as previously mentioned, first-rate and Donald Pickering oozes upper-class disdain in his trademark fashion.  Mary Yeomans only has a small role as Ross’ philandering wife, but she still manages to make quite an impression.  And if a Scottish Regiment of this era didn’t feature Gordon Jackson then I’d feel somewhat cheated.  As Sgt McKinnon he’s only in a couple of scenes, but his presence is a reassuring one.

If you want to read more about the episode, then I can recommend this wonderfully detailed post on a new blog called You Have Just Been Watching.

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4 thoughts on “Gideon’s Way – The Thin Red Line

  1. I’ve been so caught up in Ramadan I haven’t been able to write to you and tell you how much you’ve made my day (past two days, really!) with the very kind recommendation and link at the bottom of your review, thanks so much Derrick!!

    It was such a treat to read your review, with the same things we both enjoyed but also the and things you picked up perceptively/read differently, which was immensely enjoyable for me!! I agree about the small looseness of some of the points of the plot/details of the mystery (some of which you’d mentioned but I hadn’t really thought of to be honest!), and you make good points re. Sir Hector’s gambling away his fortunes and estates without anyone else knowing, as he seems not to expect his own grandson to have, either, and how Robbie somehow expected others to know (?), though of course I rewatched the ending again tonight, and I feel the message hits home so eloquently by that point, though it doesn’t solve those points still haha – and yes, Gordon Jackson really was a reassuring presence in the episode!!

    Thanks again for being so kind, I’ve had/am having a not-so-good few weeks and it’s been nice to feel I’ve got a friend! Looking forward to your next post as always!!

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  2. And at the risk that we sound like a mutual appreciation society, thank you for your positive comments! Blogging can sometimes be a lonely job, so it’s always nice to have positive feedback.

    I try not to be too nit-picky, but it’s always good fun to see if the plot makes sense (and hopefully makes the review more interesting to read!) The plot-holes in this one weren’t too bad, and other Gideon’s episodes also have similar issues, but usually there’s so much to enjoy (guest actors, locations) that I’m prepared to turn a blind eye to the odd logical flaw.

    Unless I’m missing the obvious, I can’t find a comment button on your blog, otherwise I would have left a quick message to say how much I enjoyed your post on Burt Kwouk. What really resonated was when you mentioned that Burt was one of a diminishing band of archive television (and film) heroes. Like you, I’m conscious that so many of the actors, writers and directors whose work I enjoy are no longer with us.

    Every time I prep a new post, I first head over to IMDB to glean some info on those cast members who maybe aren’t so familiar to me. Many, of course, have passed on, but it’s always a nice surprise to learn that many are still alive and kicking (with some continuing to rack up film and television credits).

    Keep an eye on the blog, still a few more Gideon’s Way posts to come. And then I’ll have to ponder what to cover next …..

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    • Ah, I always find myself guilty of being overly enthusiastic haha, my fault (especially when I’m not having a good day haha), but I did very much mean all the nice things about your blog!! After all, it’s why I wanted to start mine in the first place 😀 It is a lonely job you’re right, but not lonelier than not having anyone to talk about it to, so writing is a pleasurable part, as is having at least one reader to talk to, so thanks haha!! I’ve been preparing a list of posts to work on once I get through our house move this summer, so I hope I’ll be typing away into the night soon!

      You’re not missing the obvious at all haha, Tumblr is a little complicated/weird and I’m still finding my way around and more comfortably navigating its features (I’m trying to also keep a Doctor Who blog active, also a little quiet this month), but sometimes if you see the little reply icon at the bottom of the post, you can write something in, but maybe not for my previous posts (you can also click on the ‘Ask Me!’ button at the top, I’ll know it’s you haha – but I’m really glad you liked it, thank you!! Yes, his passing made me think of how what we enjoy so much, archive television (and film), also live on in our websites which are kind of television (and film) archives in themselves, keeping conversations up about the late heroes of the big and small screens and as you say, also the ones who are (always a pleasant relief!) still alive as you say! I love using IMDB too, and I always cross-reference it with movie-dude.co.uk and my favourite, Aveleyman, particularly when I can’t put a name to familiar faces, or meet new and interesting faces, as you say – good resources, and so fun to explore.

      Re. Gideon, I agree about the actors, locations, and general plots often make you overlook the smaller inconsistencies in Gideon, and this one is certainly no exception. I’d also forgotten to add that you’d introduced me to a new show, Redcap! I’d never heard of it (though John Thaw is a *huge favourite of mine, and I remember him playing another military role that same year in a Cathy Gale era Avengers episode with Roy Kinnear, he was quite memorable in that, too) and looked it up right away – sadly not on YouTube but now on my future to-find list!

      I’ll be watching this space for the rest of the episodes, and can’t wait to see what you decide to cover next too! Great review of The Reluctant Witness too – I really loved the story between PC Moss and Rachel Gully (for once Trevor Bannister is not so much Mr Lucas but as you say a sweet, fresh-faced bobby), and it’s nice to see the story focus on the one (young) policeman for a chance too – and agreed, Audrey Nicholson is very pretty, absolutely lovely!! (speaking of IMDB, I looked her up after reading your post, and it turned out she and Graham Stark were married!) She plays the mousy girl convincingly though, I feel (not an easy job), with her demeanour and clothing and also her schoolgirlish hairstyle which makes her seem a little younger/more naive. I also remember finding Tiny’s death terribly sad (I remember worrying about the same fate for the lovely kind Syd Taylor/David Davies in White Rat, a lovely character with lovely scenes with Gideon) – these weathered, dented characters were always written with enough grit and compassion in Gideon. And the shades of the Krays in the Carter brothers’ story was also interesting, I remember. Will wait for your next one as always!!

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  3. I think you should enjoy Redcap. John Thaw is excellent and the stories are packed to the gills with the sort of high quality guest stars you’d expect from a series of this era.

    Picture quality on series one is a little variable and the second series is sadly incomplete, but it’s still well worth a look.

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